Gwen takes a slow breath and passes a hand over her face. She's been sitting in this hospital room for days now; waiting, hoping, praying for Jack's grandson to wake up. The doctors are cautiously optimistic, but it's hard to share their faith. Alice hasn't spoken to her or Rhys since they arrived, but she hasn't pushed them away either.
Jack's long gone, and Gwen's determined to pick up where he left, where he always leaves off. She has no idea if she can run Torchwood, if she can ever be all the things that Jack was, the things that he did for the world, but she can do this. She can sit at the bedside of this critically ill child, and she can stay.
Rhys walks in quietly, rations in hand. He offers Gwen a coffee and she takes it with a smile, grateful to have something warm between her hands. She looks up at Rhys and watches him square up his shoulders a little and walk over to Alice's side of the room.
"We've got cheese, ham, and chicken salad," he says, holding out three sandwiches.
Alice starts a little in her chair, as if she's only just become aware of his presence.
"What?" she says.
"Take your pick."
"I -- I'm not hungry."
"Come on, don't be daft. You've got to be fit and healthy for when he wakes up, yeah?"
Gwen watches as Alice's expression shifts. She nods slightly and accepts the food. "Thank you," she murmurs.
Rhys nods. "You're welcome."
He glances at Gwen, and they step out into the corridor.
"Any change?" he asks.
"Not yet. They think that's good, though, that it's giving him time to heal." Gwen looks back into the room and shakes her head, allowing herself to lean back and rest against Rhys.
"Hey," he says, laying a hand on her shoulder, "he's going to be fine. He comes from immortal stock, that's got to count for something, right?"
"God, I hope so."
Gwen shuts her eyes, feeling Rhys's calm breathing at her back. It's all too easy to put herself in Alice's shoes, and now that she's finally started to think about the idea that she's going to be a parent, she feels a selfish, desperate, personal need for Steven to be all right.
They stand like that, out in the corridor, for a long time. Nurses and doctors stop by to check on him and take readings, and Alice looks up at them through the window a couple of times, nodding to acknowledge their presence. There's no change.
An orderly walks up to them, looking questioning.
"Look," Gwen starts, "we're close with the family, and his mother's all on her own, we want to be here."
She shakes her head. "No, don't worry, you're fine. Are you Gwen Cooper?"
Gwen glances at Rhys and steps away from him. "I am, yes. Why?"
"I've been told there's someone here to see you, in reception. Apparently they're quite insistent about it."
"Duty calls," she mutters to Rhys, and follows the orderly back through the corridors and down to ground level, preparing herself for whatever government or army official wants to play at politics with her today.
She pushes through the double doors and walks up to the reception desk, where there's a man in a suit leaning against the counter with his back to her. Everything about him is familiar, and he's turning to face her, and --
"Hello, Gwen," says Ianto Jones.
Gwen gapes. Her heart leaps, her throat tightens, and she doesn't understand but she sprints the last the few steps and wraps her arms around every precious inch of him. She hardly notices that she's crying, and she hears a short huff of laughter from Ianto. She pulls away from him slightly, just enough to look at his face, but she keeps holding onto his arms, refusing to let him go.
"How the hell did you pull this off?" she asks.
Ianto turns to the slightly bewildered receptionist. "We'll need a private room."
"I'm sorry," he replies, "we can't really --"
The receptionist blanches. "Um. There's a -- take the left hand doors, three rooms down."
"Thank you," Ianto says pleasantly.
The room's more of a store cupboard, really, but there are a couple of chairs that are close enough together for the two of them to sit down without Gwen letting go of Ianto for an instant.
"So?" Gwen asks helplessly. She can't begin to fathom this.
"I woke up," Ianto says. "I don't know how, or why, I just came to again. Like there was something that fought the virus off."
"But you were dead, I saw you, you were --" She breaks off, because even though he's right in front of her, the flash of his body is too strong, too awful. She remembers reaching out to touch him, like a part of herself had gone with him.
Ianto shrugs. "Your guess is as good as mine. But I have to assume it's Torchwood, somehow. Something I've come into contact with along the way."
"Bloody Torchwood," Gwen says with a smile, a familiar refrain. "Still, I'm glad to know it's good for something!"
Ianto laughs. "That makes two of us." He studies his hands for a second, entwined with Gwen's. "Where's Jack?"
Gwen bites her lip. "Ianto, I'm sorry. He's gone. Things got worse, they got so much worse, and he had to do something that almost killed his grandson. I don't know exactly what happened, I wasn't there, but he said he could hardly live with himself, that he blamed himself for what happened to you, that he couldn't stand to be here any more." She can feel a tremble in her voice, a weak point, and she lets herself break just a little. "I have no idea if he's coming back."
"Hey, hey," Ianto says softly. "He'll come back. No way he'd leave you forever. And we managed last time, didn't we?"
She smiles at the 'we', and she clutches his hands a little tighter. "Don't you ever do that to me again, you hear?"
"I'll do my best."
Gwen nods emphatically, and she feels herself starting to cry again, and it looks like maybe things are going to be all right.
Ianto's faced death before, but this is the first time it's felt like a reprieve, a grace. He knows second chances when they're handed to him on a platter.
He turns up on Rhiannon's doorstep. She screams, she shouts at him for doing that to her, and she doesn't let him out of her sight while he sits at her kitchen table and talks, her family listening raptly.
He tells them about Torchwood, about the aliens and the things he's seen. He tells them about the people he's known, Torchwood One and Lisa, then Jack and Suzie, Owen and Tosh.
Some parts leave him doubled over with laughter, and some parts are almost impossibly hard. He wants to do right by Lisa, but he can't look Rhiannon in the eye while he tells he what he tried to do. Then he starts to find that the more he talks, the more he's able to talk.
"Right," says Rhiannon, after he's talked for hours, hoarse and rung-out. "That's enough of spaceships and aliens and monsters, it's time for bed."
David puts up a token protest, but Mica's already asleep on her dad's lap, so they get scooped up and hustled away to bed. Ianto follows Rhiannon up the stairs, keeping his distance. He isn't sure how to be part of a family any more.
Rhiannon slips out of the kids' room. "Go on, tuck David in. He's asking for you."
Ianto hesitates, but she gives him a small shove towards the door and he steps inside, where Johnny's straightening up from Mica's bed.
"Uncle Ianto?" David asks sleepily.
"Hi," Ianto says, and crouches down by his bed.
David reaches out to curl his fingers into Ianto's shirtsleeve. "Was that all true? You really fight aliens?"
Ianto nods. "I'm sorry if I scared you."
David shakes his head. "Nah. You won, didn't you?"
Ianto laughs. "Yeah, yeah we did." He straightens out David's sheets. "Sweet dreams, David."
"G'night," David mumbles, eyes already falling shut.
Johnny chuckles quietly from the corner, and switches the light out when Ianto reaches the door.
"So," Ianto says when they're out in the corridor, "I presume it's all right if I kip on your sofa?"
"You think I've got any say in it?" Johnny says wryly, but he's smiling. Then he holds out his hand and grasps Ianto's, shaking it. "Listen, mate, thank you."
"For saving my kids!"
"I didn't have much to do with that, in the end."
"Not just this time. Every time."
Ianto doesn't know what to say. He can't remember the last time he was thanked for doing his job. Johnny snorts and claps him on the back. "Yeah, you're all right, you are."
"Wow, the Johnny Davies stamp of approval. Things must be looking up."
Johnny nods, folding his arms. "Damn right. Now, go on," he says with a tilt of his head towards the stairs, "she'll be waiting for you."
When Ianto gets downstairs, Rhiannon's standing at the back door, staring out at the sky.
She smiles when she sees him and makes room for him beside her. "This has been . . ."
"The maddest week of your life?" Ianto offers.
"It gets better. It gets -- easier, to grasp how tiny we are. All those billions of stars, and we're so small." He turns to look at her. "But I think that we're worth it, in the end."
"Yeah. Yeah, I reckon we are."
They stand in silence for a while, breathing in the night air.
"God, Ianto, when they came barging in here and told me you were dead, I couldn't --" She breaks off. "And now, all of this? I am so proud of you, but do I even know you?"
"Better than anyone."
"But everything you've said today, all these things you've seen --"
"Don't change the fact that you're my big sister."
"I can't believe it took the end of the world to come back to me," she says, wrapping her arm around his.
"Quite a few ends of the world, actually."
"You're hopeless, you know that?"
Ianto ducks his head. "It's been said, yes."
Rhiannon starts laughing, and it echoes out into the street.
They start to rebuild Torchwood, bit by bit. Gwen strengthens links with UNIT and tries to pool resources. Ianto works on hooking computers back up to the mainframe and monitoring Rift activity again. Both of them keep finding themselves drawn back to the wreckage of the Hub, and in the end they successfully petition to have the rebuilding plans include a memorial, for all the people who have had their final resting place blown to pieces.
They each maintain the unshakeable belief that Jack is going to come back. Rhys is clearly sceptical, but he keeps his doubts to himself.
Then, two weeks after the 456 were defeated, Gwen gets a call. Steven Carter is on the way to a full recovery.
Gwen thinks that she might be starting to believe in miracles again.
Six months later, they get a message. A time, a place, and three initials. CJH.
When they get to the hillside, Ianto lags behind while Gwen goes up to pave the way. Jack tells her a little bit about his travels, she lets him know that Alice and Steven are doing fine. He sounds wracked with guilt but relieved.
Ianto waits down the slope, trying in vain to play out what on earth he's going to say. Clearly, Jack's hurting, more than Ianto has ever known him to. Even when he left them for the Doctor, he was running towards, not away from. Ianto has no idea where they go from here, but the starting is the important thing.
"Jack," Gwen says up ahead, "there's something else. Someone else, actually." She steps aside, and Ianto walks up the hill to see Jack again.
"Oh," Jack says, and his face falls open with stunned disbelief.
"Rumours of my demise have been greatly exaggerated, and so on," Ianto says.
Jack opens his mouth, then shuts it again. His expression on his face is so raw that Ianto can feel it in his own guts, and Gwen glances between them before stealing away.
"I don't -- Ianto, I'm sorry, I'm so fucking sorry."
"It's okay, really it is."
Slowly, Jack reaches out, and when his fingertips brush Ianto's face he lets out a gasp. "You're actually here."
"And I'm not going anywhere."
Jack shuts his eye, his palm resting against Ianto's cheek, like he's absorbing this shift in reality through touch alone. Then he looks at Ianto again, takes one final step, and buries his face in Ianto's neck. Ianto half-stumbles back, startled, but then there's nothing for him to do but hold on as hard as he can while Jack lets go, for as long as it takes.
Eventually, pre-dawn begins to light up Cardiff. Jack pulls away, looking small and overwhelmed, and Ianto kisses him, full of love and sorrow and above all else, hope.
"I love you," Jack says, a little too quickly. "I do, I --"
"I know. Figured that out a while ago."
Jack shakes his head. "I don't deserve this."
"Lucky for you, you don't get a say. Stay here with us, please. This world still needs you, and so do I."
"A fresh start," Jack says, as though the words themselves are precious.
"It sounds good to me."
"Okay," Jack says slowly. "Okay."
Ianto takes Jack's hand, and starts walking back towards the city. It'll be a good hour before they're back on home ground, but right now it feels as though they have all the time in the world.
They get temporary space in an office block, which delights Jack but slightly undermines the top-secret agency feel Ianto thinks they ought to be going for. When Gwen mentions bolstering their numbers, Jack hands most of the process over to her, and she returns with Lois Habiba and a tentative suggestion that Johnson may be about to become a former M15 agent, and maybe they'd all got off on the wrong foot somewhat.
They chase down aliens and collect artefacts and get themselves into ridiculous situations. Nothing's the way it used to be, but not all change is bad.
It's a rare joy to watch Gwen and Rhys stumble their way into parenthood. Gwen gives birth to her daughter and is back on her feet in two weeks, running operations from her living room and training Lois up as her deputy liaisons officer. Jack acts like it's the best thing ever to happen, and in some ways it is.
After a time, Jack begins to have stilted but regular conversations with Alice, and even though Steven's still scared to see him, she starts sending him school reports and the occasional update.
Ianto sees Rhiannon every weekend that he can, and the kids ask him for stories about aliens while he helps them with their maths homework. He finally feels able to let himself have a family again, a family that extends beyond Rhiannon and Johnny to Gwen and Rhys, and above all Jack, who's slowly learning how to grow roots here too.
Almost a year to the day after the children of the world were saved, Ianto gets a buzz up to his flat. It's Jack at the intercom, and when he reaches Ianto's door he's holding a bag that must be full with all of the possessions he has left.
Jack doesn't speak.
"Come in - I've got coffee on the go," Ianto says.
Jack steps inside, and cautiously puts his bag on the floor.
Ianto takes his coat. "I was tired of living alone too," he says.
Smiling brilliantly, Jack shuts the door behind him.